By Thomas Bartlett and Robin Wilson
Huntsville, Ala.—In his first extensive interview about what happened Friday at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, James Anderson said he didn’t know that his wife, Amy Bishop, had a gun when he dropped her off at a faculty meeting at 3 p.m. Nor did he know specifically what might have caused Ms. Bishop, a biology professor at the university, to allegedly shoot and kill three of her colleagues less than an hour later. But he knew that his wife felt she had been unfairly denied tenure and that she was taking the fight to the highest level—the university’s Board of Trustees.
Mr. Anderson talked to The Chronicle outside his home Sunday morning as he and his four children prepared to leave for church. He said his wife believed that her denial had been caused, at least in part, by a miscommunication over whether two papers had been published in time to count toward her tenure bid. While some colleagues have said that she didn’t get along well with other professors, Mr. Anderson called her “very personable” and said she was a “loved teacher.” There had been no threats or hints of violence, he said, nor was he aware that his wife even had a gun.
On Friday afternoon, Mr. Anderson said, he dropped his wife off at the faculty meeting. The two often commuted together; Mr. Anderson worked at Prodigy Biosystems, located just a few minutes from the campus. Ms. Bishop was also involved with the fledgling company and was going to be its spokeswoman, he said. When she called nearly an hour later, she asked him to pick her up but didn’t mention the shooting. The couple was planning to go out for coffee as part of a scheduled date night. Ms. Bishop was in police custody before her husband arrived.
Since the shootings, Mr. Anderson said, he’s been searching for “the trigger”—that is, what might have caused his wife to open fire on her colleagues. He wondered if perhaps an e-mail message might have upset her. Often, according to Mr. Anderson, higher-ups at the university sent “nastygrams” on Fridays. He wondered whether she had received such an message, perhaps one affirming that university officials were standing behind her denial of tenure. But so far he hasn’t found anything.
Mr. Anderson said that he wanted to look through Ms. Bishop’s “two-inch-thick” tenure file, but that it had been confiscated. He said that his wife had hired a lawyer to help her regarding her tenure denial and that the lawyer had been making progress.
As for Ms. Bishop’s state of mind following her tenure denial last year, her husband said she “didn’t want to go the way of” another university scientist who had lost tenure and was now driving a shuttle bus in Huntsville. But there were reasons to be hopeful: Mr. Anderson said his wife was looking beyond the denial and had already mentioned two leads on possible jobs. She had said she was going to check on one of the leads when she got home from the faculty meeting.
The two met when they were undergraduates at Northeastern University, and Mr. Anderson was dating Ms. Bishop when she shot her brother to death more than two decades ago. He called that shooting “an absolute accident.” The Boston Globe reported that there is a controversy over whether, in fact, the shooting was accidental.
Mr. Anderson spoke to The Chronicle in the doorway of his green, wood-sided house, about 20 minutes from the campus, as a light snow fell in Huntsville. He had talked to his wife by phone earlier Sunday morning.
“I know you guys are obviously in shock,” she told him, but she didn’t go into detail because, she said, her call was being monitored. She wanted to know whether their children were OK and whether they’d done their homework.